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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 12 May 2022

Vol. 1022 No. 1

Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh – Priority Questions

School Costs

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Ceist:

59. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Education the steps that she will take to reduce back-to-school costs for parents including the cost of schoolbooks, uniforms and voluntary contributions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23688/22]

Parents will be very much starting to worry about how they will pay for the next school year. It is always an enormous expense of several hundred euro and often more than €1,000 for families that have multiple children in school, for books, uniforms and voluntary contributions. We are in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis that families are grappling with, so what will the Minister do to make the return to school as affordable as possible for families?

A range of measures are in place to reduce back-to-school costs and also to help families with these costs. The Department published a circular in 2017 which sets out principles of cost-effective practice to be adopted by schools to reduce the cost of returning to school. Under these measures, schools are required to select school uniforms that are generic and can be purchased from an array of retailers and only iron-on or sew-on crests should be used. The circular also sets out that schools should consult with parents on their views and suggestions on cost-reduction initiatives for school uniforms.

The Department also supports schools to help reduce the cost of schoolbooks. Schools are expected to adopt a cost-conscious approach to the selection of books. Under the book-rental scheme, the Department provided funding of €17.2 million in 2021 to schools. Some 96% of primary schools and 69% of post-primary schools operate a book-rental scheme for parents. Additional funding of €1 million was provided under budget 2020 to provide free books in delivering equality of opportunity in schools, DEIS, primary schools on a pilot basis. Under Circular 46/2013, DEIS primary schools receive a book grant of €21 per pupil. This pilot provided an additional €64 per pupil to increase the overall book grant rate to €85 per pupil enrolled in the school. This is in line with the costings as set out in the 2019 Barnardos report on the real cost of school, which states that €85 is the average cost of schoolbooks at primary-school level. This funding was allocated to 102 DEIS primary schools for a new pilot programme for the 2020-21 school year. This funding has continued for the 2021-22 school year.

The aim of this pilot is to provide free schoolbooks for students in the schools involved and to support these schools in eliminating the cost of schoolbooks for parents. It will continue to run for the 2021-22 school year and its effectiveness and impact will be monitored and evaluated before any decision is made as regards its possible extension or continuation. It is my intention to complete this process as soon as possible.

I recently announced the expansion of the DEIS programme benefitting 347 schools. Some 310 schools will be included in DEIS for the first time and 37 existing DEIS primary schools are being reclassified and will be eligible for increased supports. Schools in the DEIS programme are provided with additional financial support by way of a DEIS grant and an enhanced schoolbook grant rate.

I also understand the need for improved capitation funding to schools for running costs and I am pleased that budgets 2020 and 2019 provided for increases in standard capitation funding for primary schools.

People across the State are doing all they can to keep up with sky-high bills and runaway price increases. The cost-of-living crisis is not new and it has been going on in education for some time. The idea that we have a free education system at primary- and post-primary levels is a myth. The Department of Education is one of the only Departments that has not put forward any serious proposals in recent months to tackle increasing costs within its portfolio.

I am not blown away by the Minister's answer. She instanced a five-year old circular, two pilot programmes and the expansion of DEIS, which is welcome but, ultimately, the vast bulk of families are not going to see any reduction in the multi-hundred euro bills and neither are they going to see any reduction in the bills of more than €1,000.

There is a programme for Government commitment to reducing the high cost of education and in particular to provide free schoolbooks. We are two years into the Government's term and, aside from the pilot programme the Minister referred to in a small number of schools, there is no progress towards free schoolbooks. Is this something the Government is going to deliver? How is it going to deliver it and when is it going to happen?

Deputy Ó Laoghaire needs to take a more holistic view of the various measures we have in schools. For example, as I already referenced, significant funding has gone into DEIS. We have more schools than ever in DEIS, following the single biggest increase in the DEIS profile for schools, costing to the tune of €18 million this year and increasing to €32 million in 2023.

In addition, specifically in terms of measures of late, in recognition of the pressure facing families, this year the Government reduced the cost of school transport, which will come on stream for this school year. The cap on school transport fees that currently stands at €220 for families at primary level and €650 for families at post-primary level will be reduced to €150 for a family at primary level and to €500 per family at post-primary level. Furthermore, in recognition of cost-of-living expenses, all examination fees have been voided this year, so there is no cost to families in that regard. That is in addition to the suite of measures that have been introduced by the Government across various sectors such as the fuel allowance and the electricity credit payment.

The Minister said I must take a more holistic view. I very much welcome the expansion in DEIS. While I would have appreciated more engagement at the time, I very much welcomed it. It is very beneficial, but it is focused on tackling disadvantage and ensuring that every student has the same opportunity to progress. It is not focused on reducing costs, which affect every family across the State. The costs are enormous. I want to come back to the point about schoolbooks. It must be the loneliest sentence in the entire programme for Government in that it is often talked about, but no action is taken on it. Not for the first time, the Minister has neglected to answer the question. Is that something she is going to do? When is she going to do it, and how is she going to do it? It has been done in many other jurisdictions. It is the case in the North and in many European jurisdictions. People who arrive here are often amazed that they have to fork out for the significant cost of books. Is the Minister going to do it? When is she going to do it, and how is she going to do it?

I reiterate that the book scheme was extended and the pilot programme has run for two years. We have given a commitment that we will review the programme and look at the potential going forward for it to be either continued or extended. As Deputy Ó Laoghaire is aware, that is a budget consideration. It is important that we allow the pilot to complete and for it to be fully reviewed. He would accept that is best practice in regard to any model.

Equally so, it is important to acknowledge that under the book-rental scheme, more than €17.2 million has been expended by the Department of Education to ensure that families have access to books. Some 96% of primary schools and 69% of post-primary schools are availing of the book-rental scheme. Notwithstanding that, in recognition of the opportunity to do something more with books, going forward, when the pilot scheme concludes it will be reviewed and appropriate action will be taken then.

Special Educational Needs

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Ceist:

60. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Education when the allocations for SNAs will be released to schools to allow SNA teachers, schools and parents plan for the needs of children in the next school year. [23608/22]

It is mid-May and the special needs assistant, SNA, allocations have yet to be published. SNAs across the country speak regularly about the lack of respect shown to them by the Department of Education. It is hard not to agree with them when it comes to the middle of May and the allocations for next September are not available. They must plan for their own lives and planning is required for the young people they work with, as well as their schools. Everything is still up in the air in the absence of the publication of the allocations.

I thank Deputy Ó Ríordáin for raising this important matter. Suffice to say that the timeline for SNA allocations is always May. Work is ongoing at present on the SNA allocations and they will be announced this month, as promised. There will be no deviation from that, and certainty will be given to SNAs and schools in terms of their re-allocation.

We are specifically talking about the front-loading allocation. The Deputy will be aware that it was delayed as a result of Covid, and it was put back again to the 2022-23 school year. It will be in operation from September of this year. It will be a very positive development for schools and for SNAs. The Deputy says the Department has not given them much respect. The lives of SNAs will improve dramatically over the years to come. Even at present, when we look at the SNA training programme in UCD, for example, which was the first ever training programme, it is a ten-month programme encompassing five different modules.

Approximately 3,500 students are availing of it and the outcomes have been positive. We will examine what we can do for those SNAs in the future. By the end of this year, we will have 19,169 SNAs, an increase of 81% since 2011. This year, in the budget an additional 1,165 SNAs will be allocated to schools. Some 574 of those will be in special classes, 46 will be in special schools and 545 will be in mainstream schools. SNAs are critical to the lives of children in schools, whether in mainstream special class or special school.

I will be honest with the Minister of State. When I tabled this question last week I assumed the allocations would have been published by the time we discussed it. I do not need to know how many SNAs there are or how good a job they do. I need to know when the allocations will be published by the Minister of State’s Department so SNAs, schools and families can plan for September. It is not good enough to tell me the allocations are always made in May because it is not good enough that they are made in May. The Minister of State is telling me they will be made by the end of the month but second level schools effectively close up at the end of the month. Can the Minister of State give me a definitive date for when these allocations will be published? Can she give a commitment that the allocations will not be made in May next year?

As I stated in my first contribution, we indicated that the SNA allocation would take place in May, as it always does. That is the timeline for allocations and it is done on the basis of ongoing collaboration with our education partners and everybody else. The SNA allocation will be announced by 31 May. It is important to consider the front-loading model when we are talking about the profile of schools because schools are front-loaded with resources. The allocations to schools will include provision to support all pupils in the schools, including where a child will receive a diagnosis after the allocation is received by a school or even where new pupils are enrolling in the school. There are many benefits of this approach. It is also intended to ensure that the SNA posts will be in schools and available to students immediately on their arrival.

I do not think the Minister of State is hearing what I am saying. It is not good enough to say the allocation is always made in May. SNAs are telling me it is not good enough and that the same thing happens every year. They cannot plan for September. They are the last group of school workers who are ever thought of. This year, the staff schedule came out in April whereas it has come out in February in previous years. It is not good enough to tell the House this always happens in May and sure that is the way it is. Nor is it good enough to say it is going to happen by the end of this month. I would like to hear some level of regret in the Minister of State’s voice. SNAs waiting for this allocation to come out cannot plan for September because they do now know what their personal situation will be, or what will be the circumstances of the young person or child they will be working with or those of the school, school principal and school community.

Can we work towards a scenario where the allocations will not be made in May next year? Can the Minister of State give a date on which the allocations will be released? If an SNA feels disrespected by the Department, he or she will continue to feel disrespected if this happens every single year and the Minister of State shows no ambition to change the position for next year.

The Deputy needs to be aware that this decision is not solely for me, as Minister of State with responsibility for special education, or the Minister for Education to take. There are a lot of moving parts when making a decision of this nature. We have stated previously that the allocation will be made in May. That gives certainty to schools as they know an announcement will be made on the allocation for September and they can plan for that.

When the front-loading model is implemented it will improve job security for SNAs in schools because it will ensure greater certainty for SNAs in relation to their employment status as the school allocation of SNA support will not be based on an annual application process. That is important. It would enable a school to allocate SNA support to a pupil who does not have a formal diagnosed special educational need but needs support. We also have to accept that many students with special educational needs in the mainstream do not have significant care needs. They are supported through the special education teacher, or SET, allocation. Notwithstanding all of that, it is important that there is clarity for schools. That will be provided this month, as promised.

Special Educational Needs

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Ceist:

61. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Education the details of her plans to encourage as many schools, teachers and special needs assistants as possible to facilitate the summer provision programme in 2022; if the early payment of all staff involved will be guaranteed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23692/22]

The summer provision programme is vitally important. Eight weeks and more is an incredibly long time for children who are autistic or have profound intellectual disabilities or other special needs not to have any contact with education. That is why the programme is so crucial. Very often, parents find that the programme does not last long enough or that they are unable to find a tutor or school-based programme. What can be done ensure the take-up of this programme by schools is increased and how can that be incentivised?

I thank the Deputy for raising this question around summer provision, which is on the minds of many schools, parents and families. It is very much looked forward to by children with additional needs and their families. We are encouraging as many schools as we can to participate this year in the summer provision programme. As the Deputy will know, all 4,000 schools are eligible to participate.

Last year, we established a review of the summer provision programme, which fed into the consultative forum. This dictated some of the new measures we have introduced this year to try to make participation in the programme more streamlined for schools. We have provided funding for a programme overseer, which should assist, and have helped with preparation time and faster payments for staff. We want to ease the administrative burden on schools and give them greater guidance materials on the programme content. We have also allowed the schools flexibility regarding when they can run the programme. It is at their discretion to decide whether it will run in July - it used to be known as July provision - or in August. That gives the schools some autonomy over their calendar.

Schools can also recruit staff final-year students who are graduating this summer, undergraduates or newly-qualified teachers. There is a centralised application process to reduce the administrative burden, which was a key concern raised last year. I am satisfied this will go a long way towards making the programme more attractive for schools to participate in. The Teaching Council and the Irish Primary Principals Network will promote the summer programmes as well.

Last year, we provided €40 million for the summer provision programme, which was double the funding from the previous year. We have matched that sum again this year. Approximately 48,000 young persons participated in the scheme last year and we are hopeful that a significantly higher number will participate this year.

I welcome the review of the programme. Some of the measures outlined will indeed assist. Last year, a significant number of schools contacted me about delays in providing details of the summer provision programme, which prevented them from being able to provide the programme to students. The timeframe meant they did not have time to prepare and organise summer provision. I wrote to the Minister of State in March urging her to release details of this year's programme as soon as possible because I was concerned that history would repeat itself. While nothing can done for this year, I urge the Minister of State to take seriously the matter being raised by schools and ensure the programme is advertised as early as possible next year.

I welcome the measures that have been taken. Have they been widely publicised and promoted to schools? We need to be as creative as possible to incentivise the greatest uptake possible. Has the Minister of State engaged with the trade unions and school management bodies about other forms of incentives? These could include expanding the hours available under home tuition and addressing the issues of late pay, additional leave and low levels of pay for SNAs. Has the Minister of State engaged with the unions and management bodies about ideas such as those?

The inspectorate reviewed SEN provision last year and provided a report which was shared with stakeholders and used to inform this year's summer provision. The findings from last year indicated primarily that the programme was very beneficial and successful. We wanted to build on that to inform this year's summer provision. Schools can have as many pupils as they have capacity for. The guidance materials went to schools after engagement with management bodies and unions that they should prioritise those students with the most complex needs.

As the Deputy knows, staff get an extra week's pay, which is a doubling of their salaries. One of the most important things about this is it is not about location; it is about the level of the child's need. We have seen an increase of 64% in special schools and special classes availing of this programme between 2019 and 2021.

The issue of lower levels of pay for SNAs, and their significant disparity, has been raised on several occasions. I urge the Minister to look at that because SNAs are very often crucial in providing the programme. A significant issue raised each year is that of the late payment of staff who volunteer their time to facilitate summer provision. This comes in the context of many schools and staff feeling very burnt out and feeling that the past two years have been very challenging. If we are asking teachers and SNAs to take up this programme, and I hope many will because it is vitally important, we need to ensure their goodwill is responded to. Last year, the Minister made a big deal about earlier payment of staff, but staff and teachers who were waiting for payment for work done in July still contacted me in November and December. The administrative hurdles some had to jump through were extremely stressful. I hope the online payment system will address those issues, but will the Minister make a firm commitment that staff will be paid by September at the latest?

I understand that last year the majority were paid before 7 October, once they had fully completed their form. Most were paid by 28 October, while 76% were paid by 11 November and those in the bands by 25 November. As the Deputy mentioned, this year, for the first time, there will be an online claims system for schools to submit payment details for those staff taking part in the school-based summer programme. We hope this will provide for faster and more streamlined payments to staff. When they get paid will depend on when they submit their claims but, as there is this new online claims system, if they get the claims in as soon as possible we are working to pay them as they are received. As the process is streamlined and online, it will be faster than last year. There are also enhanced payments for special schools and special classes in order to get them more involved.

Legislative Programme

Gary Gannon

Ceist:

62. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Education if the Education (Health, Relationships and Sex Education) Bill 2021 is on track to be read a Second Time within the nine-month timeframe set by her in the amendment that was passed in Dáil Éireann; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24027/22]

I ask the Minister if the Education (Health, Relationships and Sex Education) Bill 2021 is on track to be read a second time within the nine-month timeframe set out by the Minister in the amendment passed by the House and if she will make a statement on the matter. I remind her this motion was moved by me on 24 November 2021. The Minister amended it to suggest the Government would read it again in nine months. However, I am very conscious that it is currently not on the summer legislative programme, despite that commitment and the commitment in the programme for Government on the matter.

Access to sexual and health education is an important right for students and it is equally important that this education meets the needs of students in their day-to-day lives and reflects models of best practice. The Department of Education continues to work closely with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, to give best effect to the commitment in the programme for Government to develop inclusive and age appropriate relationships and sexuality education, RSE, and social, personal and health education, SPHE, curricula across primary and post-primary levels, including an inclusive programme on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex, LGBTI+, relationships and making appropriate legislative changes, if necessary. The work of the NCCA draws on its report on the review of relationships and sexuality education in primary and post-primary schools, which was published in 2019.

As the Deputy will be aware from the Second Stage debate of the Private Members’ Bill tabled by him, arising from recommendations in that report the NCCA has been following a two-track approach on this work. First, the NCCA has a focus on developing support materials for teachers for publication online as part of the online guidance toolkit. The toolkits will support teachers in their engagement with the current SPHE-RSE curriculum in a confident and holistic manner and in a comprehensive way that meets the needs of young people today. Separate toolkits, which are being used by schools, are available for the primary, junior cycle and senior cycle curriculum areas. In tandem with this work, the NCCA is progressing the broader redeveloping and updating of the SPHE curriculum, with an initial focus on junior cycle. A draft revised junior cycle specification is due to be agreed at the NCCA council in advance of the summer, with a public consultation to follow. The final revised specification is due to be completed by the end of 2022 and rolled out in 2023 and will be followed by revised specifications for senior cycle and primary.

In addition to this, I have recently announced the Department's intention to provide funding for a new postgraduate programme to upskill registered post-primary teachers teaching SPHE and RSE. In the course of the programme, it is intended that each participant will be provided with high-quality content knowledge and will be empowered to become an effective and enthusiastic teacher of SPHE-RSE. The Department has recently engaged with higher education institutions and it is hoped that a number of them will be interested in designing and developing this programme.

I am keen to allow the NCCA time to complete its development work in this important and sensitive area. This is why, as the Deputy is aware, on Second Stage of the Bill on 16 November, the Government tabled a timed amendment that the motion be read in nine months’ time. My Department continues to engage closely with the NCCA to assist completion of this work.

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive response. I am very conscious that all the great work that has been done in respect of the online resources, and the work of the NCCA that started several years ago at this point, will be rendered somewhat meaningless if there is not a standardisation across all publicly funded schools that means they will have to enact particular programmes. The situation we have at present involves a scenario where schools, depending on the management organisation, the board of management and the ethos, simply do not have to employ particular criteria in the teaching of RSE because it is not standardised. My Bill sought to do exactly that, namely, to standardise the teaching of it.

My specific question is whether we will have the motion in nine months' time. We brought it in in November and nine months will be completed in August. Will we see it in July or September or has it just been taken off the table to an undefined point in the future?

I acknowledge the Deputy's personal engagement with this issue. I also acknowledge we have made significant progress in progressing this. As I have articulated, I can point to the fact that specifications for junior cycle are due to be published very shortly, followed by public consultation, which has marked this process. At the same time, preparation has begun for senior cycle and we are also looking at the revision at primary level. It is equally important to say that all children and young people have a right to access correct and factual information. That is an absolute given. Equally, as part of my intention to advance this, we are doing all that we can to ensure teachers will be properly trained in all areas so there will be what the Deputy called continuity across all schools. I am rolling out the upskilling programme for teachers, which is covered through funding by the Department. As I said, there is an absolute commitment to allowing the work of the NCCA to progress and to read the Bill again in nine months' time.

The Minister highlighted that a lot of work is going on. She also mentioned the potential for legislative changes in her initial response. She has said this several times. I note she said this to the press a year ago following the announcement of the Flourish programme, she said it during the contribution in November at the second reading of our Bill and she has just mentioned it. What legislative changes does she anticipate may have to be made in order to standardise this? Is it something we can expect in the legislative programme before the end of the year, for example? I am very conscious that all this good work is somewhat meaningless if there is no standardised approach across schools. Some schools can say they will initiate the rights of the child to access this information as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and some schools may simply say they will not do that, and if students want that information they should go home to their parents who may be able to give it to them. It requires legislative changes. Does the Minister agree with that? When can we anticipate seeing them? If it will not be in nine months, will we see those changes this year?

Again, I very clearly reiterate the curriculum must be followed in our schools. All schools must follow it and all students are entitled to the full and factual information as presented by our curriculum. In anticipation of that, we have very clearly set out the process to ensure our curricula are as current, up to date and appropriate as is necessary and possible. The work is ongoing, which I appreciate the Deputy referenced. While the work is being completed in updating and reviewing the present curriculum, we have ensured we are putting in place a variety of supports for our schools that can be drawn down by our school staff. We are now putting a postgraduate programme in place, the cost of which will be covered by the Department, that will be open to our schools to ensure our staff are fully trained. As I said, there is an absolute commitment to advance this in as timely a manner as we possibly can.

We have made significant progress. I am committed to ensuring that is completed.

Special Educational Needs

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Ceist:

63. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Education if she will establish an expert review group to examine the minimum qualifications of special need assistants; if recommendations will be issued in relation to same; if she will delay contract negotiations until this review has taken place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23693/22]

We spoke earlier about SNAs and the respect shown to them. One of the key demands they are making now relates to respect and their qualification criteria. The request is not big or excessive. It is that there would be an independent review to examine the minimum essential qualifications of SNAs. Will the Minister of State commit to such a review and the implementation of its recommendations?

In 2018, the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, published a comprehensive review of the special needs assistant scheme. It advised that there should be adequate and comprehensive training for SNAs. I mentioned this earlier to Deputy Ó Ríordáin. The first SNA course was established in UCD and five different modules were offered over ten months. Some 3,500 people have already availed of the programme.

The review made a number of recommendations regarding SNAs, including in respect of their training needs.  In this regard, the NCSE recommended that a new national training programme at level 5 of the national qualifications framework be developed for existing SNAs who do not have the requisite level of training and for new SNAs on appointment.  That is what we did. The programme is fully funded by the Department and was delivered at no cost to SNAs. As it is the first programme, it is appropriate to take time to review the outcomes that will inform any future approach to ongoing training and professional development of SNAs. That will include accreditation.

Raising the minimum qualification for appointment as a special needs assistant has been raised by the Fórsa trade union and the matter has been referred to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC.  The Department is engaging in that process.

The Department does not believe that the existing minimum qualification has in any way impacted on the calibre of appointments. People with experience or higher qualifications than the minimum are often the successful candidate in competitions held by schools. That said, the Department is open to reviewing its position. It has also agreed to review the SNA contract. It was agreed as part of the Building Momentum national pay agreement. Once the review of the SNA contract has been carried out and implemented, we can look at everything else.

The short version of the Minister of State's answer is that the Department will look at this matter in a few years. I am trying to imagine an alternative discussion. Imagine the UCD course did not exist. We might figure out exactly what we are asking SNAs to do before we design a course. The course is very beneficial. There were difficulties with accreditation and we had many debates about that but that is not fundamentally the issue. The existence of the course is all very well but the place to start should have been the criteria. I fully agree that there has been no impact in the quality but some of this is about special needs assistants' sense of their role and its future. As we continue to expand the number of SNAs, we need to ask what shape that role will take. To try to include this issue with public sector pay talks just rolls it on much further and puts the cart before the course. We need an independent review in advance of that to inform those talks.

I appreciate that this is a matter the Deputy has raised with me previously and we have discussed it on other occasions. It is important to stress that the review process for the SNA contract will begin in the next two weeks. That is my understanding. That will be helpful for progress. The Department has agreed to review the contract as part of Building Momentum. It is of the view that the forthcoming review should be carried out and implemented before the minimum qualifications for SNAs are discussed at the WRC. The fact the contract review will take place in the next two weeks indicates progress. It is important that SNAs feel they are valued and respected. Their role is integral to the progress of children with additional needs in schools.

Again, this is pushing the issue down the road for a few years. Let us play this forward. The Department carries out the review and there are public sector pay talks, followed, I presume, by an agreement. I then come back and raise the question of holding an independent review in, say, a year and I am told there was a review of the contract and it is the way it is. The public sector pay deal lasts for four or five years and at the end of that we will have a discussion around criteria. The contract was agreed, however, on an agreed definition of what an SNA did on the contract that was in place at the time. As such, as I see it, the Minister of State is effectively tying SNAs into the current criteria for the next five years if she does not do this now. The current criteria are decades old and do not reflect the essential role SNAs play, the complications involved or the expertise required for the role. We need to address those issues now. The Department is putting this on the long finger and could do so for years. The pay talks should go hand in hand with a review of the criteria. The review should not be put back.

I do not accept that the Department is putting this matter on the long finger. As I said, while the training might be slightly dismissed-----

It is not dismissed. Can I correct that?

I did not say it has been dismissed by the Deputy necessarily but that it can be slightly dismissed. The training is very important for SNAs. It is important that we look at the outcomes and findings to enable us to inform the review which, as I have said, will take place in a couple of weeks. The Deputy says he would like it to be done now. There are lots of things we would like to have done yesterday but it is not always possible. When we need to get evidence and feedback and talk to everyone involved, there are processes in place for doing so, and for very good reason. It is to ensure the matter is looked at fairly and in a way that serves the best interests of the SNAs and, ultimately, the children with additional needs who will avail of their expertise.

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